Solar Storm to Amp Up Earth’s Northern Lights This Wednesday

A minor solar storm will reach Earth Wednesday (March 14) and could amplify the planet’s auroras, making them visible from the northernmost parts of the U.S., space weather officials said.

States in the “northern tier” of the United States, such as Michigan and Maine, could see northern lights from the amped-up auroral display, according to an alert from the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in Boulder, Colorado. The storm could also trigger fluctuations in some weak power grids but will have only a minor impact on satellites in space, the center said.

SWPC scientists predicted that this week’s geomagnetic storm will be a G1 class, a minor event, and run from Wednesday to Thursday (March 15). [Amazing Auroras: Photos of Earth’s Northern Lights]

The solar storm originated from what scientists call a coronal hole, a region on the sun that allows high-speed particles to stream out into space. Those charged particles are expected to reach Earth Wednesday (March 14) and add a little extra oomph to the planet’s auroras.

These phenomena occur when Earth’s magnetic field funnels charged particles from the sun to the polar regions. When this solar wind interacts with particles in Earth’s atmosphere, it causes a stunning glow. Auroras over the North Pole are called the aurora borealis; over the South Pole, they are known as the aurora australis.

During strong solar storms, the solar wind can trigger what scientists call a geomagnetic storm. Depending on its intensity, such a storm can trigger radio blackouts, interfere with power grids on Earth and affect satellites in orbit. As a side effect, they can also amplify the Earth’s auroras, making them visible to regions at lower latitudes than is typical.

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